The legacy of K. William Kapp
Aristotle famously distinguished between the oikonomia, the wise management of the ‘household’ or community, and chrematistike, the activity of making money and the study of related processes.
Perhaps more than any other economist of the twentieth century, Karl William Kapp (1910–1976) was the economist of the oikonomia, radically criticizing the regression of economics into chrematistics. The other great student of the oikonomia was of course Karl Polanyi, with whom Kapp exchanged ideas and corresponded (Berger, 2008). In fact, the work of the two men can be seen as complementary and equal in importance. Both shared non-dogmatic socialist views, a critique of economic theory, a deeply integrative approach, and an early concern for environmental disruption—they were among the very first authors interested in the links between the science of economics and the emerging ecological crisis.
But while Polanyi’s emphasis was on broad historical processes, Kapp focused mainly on the contemporary world and on applied solutions. Surprisingly, however, Kapp’s contribution has never reached the recognition of Polanyi’s. As we will see, it is relatively easy to understand why Kapp has been ignored by neoclassical economists; but it is more difficult to grasp why he continues to be neglected by heterodox and radical economists, especially those concerned with development issues.